OSU Prepares For Big Ten Tournament

Ohio State's players are still basking in the glow of their upset victory over No. 1 Illinois on Sunday. However, now it's time to get ready for the Big Ten Tournament and Penn State. Also, we have confirmation that Thad Matta has signed his contract.

Ohio State opens Big Ten Tournament play on Thursday at approximately 5 p.m. against Penn State.

The Buckeyes (19-11, 8-8 Big Ten) are the No. 6 seed, while the Nittany Lions (7-22, 1-15) check in with the No. 11 seed.

Ohio State center Terence Dials was named to the All-Big Ten's second team on Tuesday.

The 6-9 junior led the Buckeyes in scoring (16.4 ppg.), rebounding (7.9 rpg.), field goals made (191) and attempted (327), field goal percentage (.584), foul shots made (109) and attempted (177), minutes played (979/32.6 mpg.), offensive rebounds (85), defensive rebounds (152), total rebounds (237) and total points (491).

In most years, Dials would have been a sure-fire candidate for the first team. But with Illinois (29-1) having such a huge season, the Illini were rewarded with three players on the first-team (guards Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head) including the conference player of the year (Brown).

Wisconsin fifth-year senior forward Mike Wilkinson was also a unanimous selection on the first-team.

Minnesota junior Vincent Grier was a first-team selection by the coaches, while Indiana junior Bracey Wright was the final first-team choice from the media.

Dials probably got the short end of the stick, but as usual he said all the right things.

"The guys that are ahead of me obviously had great years," he said. "I can't be too disappointed with second team. I think having a player from Ohio State make second team is a tribute to the whole team as well. So, I think it's a great accomplishment."

Dials might use the second-team selection as motivation for next season.

"Yeah, the guys that are ahead of me – Mike Wilkinson and such and such – are gone next year," he said. "It's going to be within my reach and hopefully I get that done. Just work hard this summer and work on a lot of different things."

Dials had a good freshman season in 2001-02 – averaging 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game – as the Buckeyes won the Big Ten regular season co-championship and conference tournament.

Following a medical redshirt year in 2002-03, he came back and had a strong season last year with averages of 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds.

But he clearly made big strides this season. He improved his game in nearly every facet.

"I think there's a lot of different things that factor into that," Dials said. "I think the hard work that I and this whole team put in during the summer, I think that's part of it. I think the coaching staff and the offense that we run is a part of why I'm so successful right now. I think just the coaches instilling our confidence that I can go out there and dominate my opponent night in and night out, I think has helped me out all season."

Dials was reminded by a reporter that he was a one-man wrecking crew for much of the season. He had little help in the paint, whereas the first-team All-Big Ten players all had good supporting casts.

"Yeah, but I mean, you also have to look at how your team finishes in the Big Ten," Dials said. "The guys that finished ahead of me, their teams are top two, top three. So, I can't solely rest on what I've done individually. I'm a big part of our team, but they're a big part of their team too. So, I think it's justifiable."

Even two days later, Ohio State's players were still glowing over their 65-64 upset of No. 1 Illinois.

"The win Sunday was great," Dials said. "Anytime you beat the No. 1 team it's going to be great, but considering the season that we've had and the adversity that we've had to fight through, I think that makes it that more special."

But as the team captain, Dials says it's time to refocus and get ready for Penn State.

"Yeah, I think some guys can get complacent coming off such a big win and knowing that we've beaten Penn State twice," he said. "They might think it will come easy the third time, but I've been in this situation before my freshman year trying to beat a team for the third time and it's not going to be easy. They're going to come at you every different way. We know each other's offense, so it's going to be like playing against the scout team in practice. What we've got to do is stay tough and come out here like we did against Illinois and we'll have a good chance.

"We've just got to keep that mental edge on Penn State. They know that they've struggled to beat us and we know that we've been able to beat them the last couple times. I think we just need to go out there and take care of business on our end and worry about what we have to do."

Dials says that Penn State is more dangerous than its record indicates.

"They have two strengths," he said. "I think rebounding is one of them and containing the outside shooters. They have pretty good outside shooters and we have to make sure we contain that. They are leading the Big Ten in offensive rebounds. So, if we limit their 3-pointers and limit their second-chance points, I think we have a great chance of winning.

"I think go hard or go home is the motto we have to live by. You don't want to lose and you don't want the season to end too fast. This is it for us and you want to have some good memories to go home with."

* No one is more popular on campus right now than Matt Sylvester. The junior forward hit the winning 3-pointer against Illinois and finished with a career-high 25 points.

"I've heard from everyone besides George W.," Sylvester said. "That's about the only person I haven't heard from. I've heard from a lot of past coaches, family, friends… friends I didn't even know I had. I think I made a couple new friends over this whole thing. And some new family members that want to jump on the bandwagon.

"But it feels great. I'm on a real high note right now and the worst thing would be to go in and have a flat game against Penn State. I just think it would look bad and I don't want to do that to myself, so I am going to make sure I get myself ready mentally and physically for this next game."

Sylvester thinks the Illinois win gave OSU basketball immediate credibility.

"Yeah, everyone knows that Ohio State is a football school, because they get it done around here," he said. "They're the big guys. I think we kind of opened some eyes. I don't think people are going to overlook us again, I know that. It just feels good to prove the doubters wrong. Hopefully we gained some fans and people will look at Ohio State in a new light. I hope we gained some respect through the whole thing."

Sylvester watched Sunday's Sportscenter over and over again.

"About 8,000 times," he said. "Got it all recorded."

But the team did not celebrate together Sunday evening.

"I didn't do anything," Sylvester said. "A few cheeseburgers with the family and that is it. I was actually kind of scared to go out. I'm actually a pretty humble guy and I tried to keep the attention off me. I really didn't do anything.

"We talked about it, the team talked about going out together, but plans kind of fell through. Guys had family in town and stuff. We'll celebrate after the season, that's for sure."

Sylvester's confidence is at an all-time high and he is now shooting for a Big Ten Tournament title.

"You always want to go in thinking, ‘Let's win the whole thing.' You'd be crazy not to," he said. "But you also have to take it one game at a time and remain very level-headed about it. You can't overlook anybody and we won't."

* Senior guard Tony Stockman was asked for his thoughts on Dials not making first-team All-Big Ten.

"I'm not sure who is on the first team, but I thought maybe he might of deserved first team," Stockman said. "That's an honor to be on second team for him. I thought he deserved either one. At least one of them."

Stockman says it might be difficult to get back up for Penn State, following such an emotional win.

"It could be," he said. "(Head coach Thad) Matta will be talking a lot about that today. There's a thing already up on the board talking about, ‘You do big things, but you've got to keep going.' A little quote. Just stay focused and realize we've got something that we really want to do. We want to play good in the Big Ten Tournament and try and finish it out."

Stockman and the rest of the seniors are now to the point where their college careers will end the next time they lose.

"Yeah, I think that will help us focus and prepare for the game, because we know as soon as we lose, we're done," Stockman said. "It would probably be different if we had a tournament after this and stuff like that. Maybe we would overlook it. I think we will be ready. I think that gives us a reason to be ready."

Stockman is glad that OSU received the No. 6 seed and has a chance to play an extra game.

"We want to play the most games we can play – well, at least I do," he said. "So, I like that six seed and not getting a bye."

Stockman says a lot of students and other people have approached him on campus this week with encouraging words.

"Yeah, a lot of people have come up to us and said, ‘Good game, good game.' Just building on to our confidence going into the Big Ten Tournament," he said. "They're telling us, ‘Keep going. Try and win that.' There's a lot of people behind us and that makes you feel good to have that confidence."

Stockman was asked how many times he had watched the highlights from Sunday.

"We had the highlights on right away in the locker room," he said. "It was just fun to watch and soak it all in and enjoy it."

Stockman did not get carried off the court.

"Nah, I didn't," he said. "I saw a couple guys did; that was pretty funny. It was fun to celebrate. I was in there. I was jumping around. I was having fun."

* Senior point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham feels like an old veteran when it comes to the Big The Tournament.

"My freshman year we won it and my sophomore year we got to the finals," he said. "So, I've been through it twice. It's kind of exciting. For us, obviously this is our tournament. This is our NCAA. But I don't think guys realize that you could be possibly playing four games in four days. I don't think guys can really understand that. When you wake up in the morning, you have to get prepared for the game that night. You just have to be focused and ready to play. You have to take it one game at a time."

Fuss-Cheatham gets one more chance to go up against his home-state school.

"Penn State is a good team," he said. "Their record might not reflect it, but they've played us tough twice and they will come out ready to play on Thursday. They have good players."

* Much has been made of the fact that Matta had not signed his OSU contract. However, he confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that he has signed his contract.

When asked if his contract had been signed, Matta said, "It has."

When asked when it happened, he said, "This morning. It's been done for a while. It was just I wasn't here, or they weren't here. But (the wording) has been done for a couple of weeks now."

Matta initially had a seven-year deal, but got an automatic one-year renewal when OSU self-imposed a postseason ban. Matta's seven-year deal starts at $760,000 -- which includes his OSU base and all supplemental outside income -- and escalates from there.

While some have speculated that Ohio State may be Matta's stepping stone to another college job or possibly the NBA, OSU built in its own retention tool with this contract. Matta will get a $2 million annuity by staying at the school seven years.

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